Danger Man

5 out of 5

Created by: Ralph Smart

Danger Man – a secret agent riff starring Patrick McGoohan as NATO agent John Drake – is supremely fun in its first season of half-hour adventures.  Drake throws himself into situations head-on in a rush to resolve things within 30 minutes, leading to ridiculously high stakes and off-kilter rumbles in which the hero may get the crappers knocked out of him before catching a lucky break to save the day.  The show almost hilariously skips past any excess in this state, including conclusions to episodes: once Drake has his man or gal, credits roll.  But the grounding of the show – that Drake isn’t a super spy, but just a quick-on-his-feet Joe with some helpful gadgets like listening devices fairly believably hidden away in a shaving kit and such – keeps it feeling fresh, even if the formula only has so much room to grow within each episode’s runtime.

But when Drake is reborn as a British agent for the second season and onward, expanded to 60 minute episodes, shit gets real.  McGoohan’s influence on the character became even clearer: he was already a bit more on-the-job than the “typical” secret agent (e.g. James Bond) in avoiding fussing with anything that wasn’t directly part of the mission – dames, guns – but there’s an interesting bit of anti-authority scuttlebutt that works its way into Drake’s character, with some episodes’ use of that in his personality and in his approach to the various “find out why so-and-so was killed” / “recover these stolen documents” missions he undertakes certainly setting the stage for a certain show to come.

However, Danger Man is still completely its own show, and Drake his own character: debonair, always in charge, but with that same thread of nigh-recklessness with which the show started keeping us on edge regarding how, exactly, John will find his way out of increasingly complex mysteries and escapeless situations.  Over the course of the remaining 2 seasons (plus 2 episodes of a season 4, before Danger Man was canceled to make way for The Prisoner), we’re occasionally informed of the plot up front, occasionally left to intuit it as John is already undercover, but never talked down or pandered to; the series favors intelligence and patience over action, meaning that the moments when the action does bubble up are extremely satisfying.

Some familiar names pop up in the cast, as well as the directors and writers chairs, with some especially sharp episodes from show creator Ralph Smart.  Fans of The Prisoner will find a lot to like here, with the same sharp wit present, and some interesting hints of the oddities of that show’s setup in the occasionally surreal Danger Man episode; but the appeal of DM is wider: fans of slowburn spy stuff in general should very much be at home, filling a gap in our viewing time between John Le Carré adaptations.